Even though Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, there are many myths and misconceptions about the condition.
Here are the facts: Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes memory loss. The disease usually progresses slowly, with symptoms worsening over time. In early stages of the disease, people with Alzheimer’s may have a change in personality, experience mood swings and become depressed or irritable. They withdraw and lose interest in activities and other people, including loved ones. In the later stages, the person grows less aware of their environment. Their ability to function physically decreases. Eventually, the person will require full-time care. The cause is unknown, and there is no cure.
Knowing what Alzheimer’s isn’t is just as important as knowing what Alzheimer’s is. Here are the top 5 common myths about the disease:
Myth No. 1: Only old people get Alzheimer’s.
Most people who develop the disease do so after age 65, though no one really knows why the risk increases so dramatically with age. However, early-onset Alzheimer’s occurs in five percent of people who have the disease, and it can appear as early as age 30.
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Myth No. 2: A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is a death sentence.
There is no cure, and Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Most people with the disease live from five to 20 years after diagnosis, with the eight-to-10-year range the most common. In the early years, the person experiences mild memory loss, but the symptoms gradually progress to include the loss of physical and mental capacity. In late-stage Alzheimer’s, people develop breathing problems that often lead to pneumonia; they can also forget to eat or drink, which depletes the body of nutrients.
Myth No. 3: Alzheimer’s is hereditary.
This is partially true. Researchers know that genetics play a part. But new research has uncovered a link to lifestyle choices and health conditions. Head trauma, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are some examples that may be factors. Likewise, researchers say that strategies for healthy aging like weight control and exercise may decrease chances of getting the disease.
Myth No. 4: People with Alzheimer’s have no hope.
Learning how to live with the disease is key to continuing a meaningful life. Early diagnosis and medications can help. Additionally, both caregivers and the person with Alzheimer’s should seek out support groups and learn to revise life goals and how to offer and/or accept help. In loving environments, people with the disease can participate and enjoy life many years after diagnosis.
Myth No. 5: Both genders are at risk for the disease.
True, but inexplicably, about twice as many women develop the disease as men. Some speculate that it’s because women live longer than men. Others believe it is linked to the lack of estrogen after menopause, an important research area at the USC Memory and Aging Center, but we don’t yet have the answers.
For more than 30 years, Keck Medicine of USC physicians and researchers have made major contributions to understanding Alzheimer’s disease, vascular brain injury and memory problems.
If you are in the Los Angeles area and interested in early detection or care for the disease by the top Alzheimer’s specialists in the world, be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://neuro.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.
By Heidi Tyline King